Gallagher, Carmichael, CWTI

That Civil War Times Illustrated (CWTI) issue in which Gary Gallagher asks publishers to “stop the madness” has reached stores and can now be bought by non-subscribers. July 2007 is the cover date and a “special report” called “Glory in Gettysburg” dominates the cover.

There is a Gettysburg theme throughout, one that extends to the Gallagher interview, which has been headlined “Gettysburg Then and Now.” Civil War historian Dr. Peter S. Carmichael (below, right) did the quizzing and the Q&A was live, not via email, with Gallagher’s laughter noted. I assume the print order of questions followed the oral order and that the material was not rearranged during editing.

There are number of impressions in store for the reader and these gain more force with each rereading.

First, Carmichael asks sophisticated questions looking to engage Gallagher at a high level of discussion; Gallagher persistently gives dumbed-down responses – as if he were addressing an 18-year-old student or a random tour group. As the Q&A winds its way into the 22nd question, the gap between the complexity of Carmichael and the simplicity of Gallagher creates a strain for the reader. Gallagher - who knows he is talking to an academic - actually becomes wilder, more primitive in his responses as the questioning continues, eventually tipping over into the crazy talk that has fueled the current backlash against him.

See what you make of this, in interview order:

A lot of it was very Lost Cause-ish in its approach – this was the great lost moment, Longstreet hadn’t been doing his job, that kind of stuff. [On GG’s early reading]

He is on the scene; he is making the key decisions, not these other guys. [On Lee and his lieutenants]

He sort of came to Longstreet’s defense, but not really. [On the writing of E.P. Alexander]

Here’s a guy… [On Alexander himself]
After more of the same, we arrive at the foot-in-mouth portion of the interview: “Do we need multiple books…” “I can’t believe there is anything new to say…” and “All the arguments have been laid out…”

Here is an example of the kind of deep question Gallagher faced from Carmichael: “You edited a number of volumes on Gettysburg. Can you tell us how that body of work addresses the historical debates about the battle?” Excellent; tell us. Where do you fit in, Gary?

But here is an example of the form of the response that Gallagher delivers across the board (this for another question): “So you either pick your John Mosby school that says Stuart was pretty much doing his job, acting within his orders, and even Alan Nolan sort of fits into that, or you go to other side where it’s Jeb Stuart’s fault.”

Badda bing, badda boom? Youse can pick yer Johnny Mosbys or...

That piece of chatter (above) represents the highest level the interview reaches in the matter of historiography. And it’s not the interviewer’s fault.

A total of 22 questions and answers made it to print; thirteen of these were historiographic; eight of these try to force Gallagher to locate himself within Civil War schools of controversy. That's a good thing. He will not be allowed to stand above the fray casting judgements as if they were truths; he will be identified as a partisan in the arena of ideas; the opposing schools of thought will be discussed; influential literature pro and con will be named and considered; that is the plan of the interview.

Gallagher kills it dead.

It takes a couple of historiography questions – which Gallagher answers with minimal specificity – before he cues in on the game and becomes as vague a babbler as circumstances will permit. Specificity evaporates. Broad generalizations are dealt out in sound bites. Judgements are handed off without sources, influences, or authors ever being named.

It’s a sight to see, really, and well worth the cost of this magazine.

Where Gallagher gets specific, the modern, up-to-date, non-Centennial reader is in for some stunners. Asked pointedly by Carmichael, “What books in the last 10 years do you think have made some useful contributions to our understanding of the battle?” He answers, “I think we need a new overview of the campaign.”

That, of course has nothing to do with the question. He blusters on, “Coddington did the last really good one … that was in 1968.”

One can read GG's response as saying, in effect, I am unaware of any.

Having reformulated the question to his own liking, he heads off into the shallow end of the pool: “I think enough new scholarship has unfolded since then [1968!] that it was worth having a new synthesis.”

Synthesis? Of what? Name a study we need to synthesize. Go on.

“Two good books of that type [synthesis!] came out within the last few years… I think Stephen Sears’ Gettysburg does a good job on everything, and Noah Andre Trudeau’s Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage is also well done. But now I don’t think we need any more one-volume treatments of the battle. I just don’t see any point in that.”

Sears and Trudeau – synthesizers of 40 years of new scholarship. Sears - good job on everything. Who would have guessed? And who would have believed they could have concluded their mighty works with such comprehensive finality?

I read this part of the answer as saying, "These folks get into the new studies so I don't have to." Not that they actually do, that's obvious within 60 seconds of browsing their notes and bibliographies, but this is a story GG tells himself, one that he would like to believe.

Well, at least in this answer, Gallagher named a few books and authors. And at least, thanks to Carmichael and CWTI, he stands revealed “warts and all.”

Don't miss this cat and mouse interview. Gallagher's outbursts may have been induced by a canny interrogator. Go have some fun.

p.s. Kevin thinks me unwise to look for serious historiography in a glossy mag, but the questions posed were deep questions and deserved deep answers.